A storm in the Bermuda Triangle in February 2013

A tall ship lists to starboard during a storm in the Bermuda Triangle

A tall ship lists to starboard during a storm in the Bermuda Triangle

It would have been almost impossible to sail in the Atlantic in February without encountering some bad weather and we had to deal with our first storm on the 17/18th February, as we passed through the Bermuda Triangle.

After a couple of weeks sailing around the islands of the southern Caribbean it was time to start the long journey back to the UK. At first we remained with the calm we were used to and could be on deck at four in the morning in shorts and t-shirts, so benign was the weather.

But this couldn’t last. Heading north, especially at this time of year (it was the middle of February and that’s still the winter in the northern hemisphere) we were bound to hit something different. And on the 17th we did. We had been motoring along, getting no assistance from the wind, when we bumped into a gale, the bottom end of a system that had been dumping a lot of snow along the eastern seaboard of the United States and creating havoc in the seas to the north.

It was the first storm of the journey (we were to have 4 or 5 more before the end) so for those of us not used to sailing it was the first opportunity to see what the sea can do when it’s angry.

One thing I was to learn very quickly was that it’s difficult to capture, either with video or still camera, the sensation of a storm on a boat. The vessel responds to the waves in the way that it has been designed to do, which is amazingly well. The swell might be mountainous but the dance that the ship does to keep itself afloat seems to mitigate the storm’s force.

If you think about it, all the images you might have seen in films (which in themselves are a false reality) of storms, that make you wonder how the ship can survive, are taken off and away from the vessel itself. The small ship gets dwarfed by the huge, killer waves, but you only get that perspective from a distance which is impossible to capture if you are on board. In the middle of the Atlantic there’s no one out there to take pictures of your progress. The element of threat and danger in a film is created on board by someone throwing buckets of water at the cast, trying to give the impression that the sea wants to invade the man-made environment. But I learnt during the storm of the 17th – 18th February that the reality is somewhat different.

And recent technology goes against you when you want to capture the ominous colour of the water. I now know that digital cameras like blue and those black, threatening waves take on a less threatening aspect through a camera lens.

If you want to get a very short (only 30 seconds of a 30 hour storm) impression of what it was like click here for a link to a video I posted on YouTube.

Main Watch during the Bermuda Triangle storm in March 2013

Main Watch during the Bermuda Triangle storm in March 2013

FORECAST

Shipping Forecast issued at 06.00 UCT, 17th February 2013

General Synopsis: Bad news

Sea Area: Bermuda Triangle

Wind Direction: All the wrong way

Wind Speed: 35 knots, gusting to 50, Gale Force 8 to 9

Visibility: 8 miles – though nothing to see but sea

Precipitation: Nil – we hope

Chances of Mysterious Disappearance: Low to non-existent

Barry Manilow: Severe

The port side of a tall ship during a storm in the Bermuda Triangle

The port side of a tall ship during a storm in the Bermuda Triangle

SOUND

ventilators’ whistle and hum drowned by the ominous wind’s howl

foaming and fizzing sea, impassive still, uncaring, truly the cruel sea

breaking waves splash on deck, buckets of seawater elicit curses from the drenched

flapping, snapping, cracking sails indicate the wrong sort of wind

squeaking, straining ropes on clunking pulleys fight against the elements

grating of the bearings on the helm tell of the effort needed this day

no talking, gales kill the art of conversation, apart from nervous banter

ship’s bell, tolling for us all, so no need to ask

thump of the ship’s bow into sea and the clank of the loose anchor against the ship’s side

radio transmission of May Day calls, one Canadian fishing vessel lost a thousand miles away

below galley utensils play an impromptu symphony

plastic cups clatter in their purpose made niches trying to escape

in cabins restless tossing and turning replaces snoring

prayers being said in muted tones, atheists finding faith too late

The bow crashes into the waves

The bow crashes into the waves

LIGHT

ship’s lights, white, red and green, tell others what and where we are

grey turns to red on the heading indicator, hypnotising the helm after half an hour

lights in the wheelhouse, white for the log, red for the night

below decks portholes illuminate the foam

red lamp for port reflects momentarily on the spray, indicating danger?

the eerie green on the starboard side reminds us of the unworldly nature of the journey

high white mast light says we’re a vessel under power, sad admission for a sailing ship

moonlight, young first quarter, weak, red, low, short duration, shrouded in clouds – sometimes

pools of stars amongst the clouds, faint, their serenity belies the storm below

beyond the rails the dark abyss of the deep

torch to read temperature, hourly ritual unaffected by the storm

red flashing warning light, but it’s a false alarm, only the bilge

dark apparitions, reminiscent of Carpenter’s Fog, with their slow, unnatural gait, indicate the end is near

 

time for bed, to sleep, perchance to dream (or lie in the cold, wet arms of a nightmare)

 

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